When I first moved to the Caribbean over 12 years ago, e-readers had yet to be invented and the world of online shopping was nowhere near as much of a go-to option as it is now. As a result, many of my early island years were spent reading books that I didn’t necessarily choose. The books I had were largely determined by availability on island. The better books were those passed on by friends. The rest of what I had to read was mostly sourced from the leave a book, take a book shelves that could be found at a few random resorts and island businesses.
These shelves left a lot to be desired. Once you scrounged through the beach trash novels most tourists seemed to bring to our island, there wasn’t much left besides the suspense stories featuring some lawyer or cop that were no doubt purchased at the airport before boarding the plane. But, as any avid reader will say, a mediocre book is still better than no book at all. And so I read more than my share of John Grisham-style thrillers and books with bright pink covers focused on weddings, usually bearing a “Now a major motion picture!” sticker.
Thankfully, between the release of the Kindle and Amazon starting to ship physical books for more reasonable prices, I got back to reading books I was actually interested in. I naturally incorporated whatever island-related reads I could find into my to-be-read queue – it’s always a treat to read about the familiar, isn’t it?
These days, as I work on getting an island life book of my own published, I’ve been digging back into any and all books set in the tropics. Some I’ve read years ago and others I’m experiencing for the first time. Because there’s nothing I love talking about more than books, and because I love supporting my fellow island writers in any way I can, I thought I’d start sharing some of the island reads I’ve found here.
If you’ve read the featured book too, be sure to leave a comment below or on our Facebook page – we can chat about it and it’ll be like our own island-style book club!
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you click on them and choose to buy something, it won’t cost you anything, but I’ll get an itsy bitsy commission as a thank you for sharing something cool with you.
Written by: Ann Vanderhoof
Originally published: 2005
Perhaps one of the most well-known island books out there, An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude has been recommended to me many times over the years. I’m not sure how or why it took me so long to get to it. I absolutely adore the title and now that I’ve finally read it, I can say that I adore the author as well.
In this book, Ann and her husband Steve decide to take a break from their corporate careers in Canada, buy a sailboat, and head south for the Caribbean. Their plan is to spend 2 years exploring the region and then decide what to do from there (though they’re not quite sure they’ll even be able to make it for 2 years). We follow their journey from the Northeastern US all the way down to Trinidad. The majority of their time and affections are allotted between the Dominican Republic and Grenada, though some other island stops are featured along the way.
Living in the British Virgin Islands, I’ve met so many sailing couples passing through who are embarking on a similar adventure. Some have a specific end date in mind like Ann and Steve, while others hope to make it last for the rest of their days. While not all of these live-aboard sailors are entirely pleasant to spend time with, Ann and Steve are my favorite kind – the type of sailing tourist who is enchanted by everything, able to take island inconveniences and absurdities in stride, and are always open to learn.
Readers who will love this book:
Island sailors, both newbies and seasoned pirates. Ann & Steve are pretty inexperienced sailors when they embark on their journey. It’s fun to join them as they gain their sea legs and even a little scary at times when they encounter some intimidating issues.
Island souls who love the Dominican Republic, Trinidad, & Grenada. Ann & Steve fall particularly head over heels for these rocks. If you’re already obsessed with these islands, you’ll definitely connect with their reasons why and enjoy some island pride. If you have yet to visit these islands, get ready to want to hop on a plane – their enthusiasm is contagious.
Anyone thinking about giving up the grind and moving to paradise. There is definitely an element of living vicariously through these two. While they share a few of the struggles in executing this new life plan, it’s mostly all sunshine and fresh coconuts. Get ready to want to pack up tomorrow.
Island foodies. Ann and Steve’s favorite way to explore a region is through their bellies. Ann is a talented cook who loves to take lessons from locals and learn how to prepare traditional island dishes in her own galley. Then she shares the recipes with you in the book, which is an added value – this book is part travelogue, part cookbook!
If you like this book and enjoy her style of writing, she wrote a sort-of sequel, The Spice Necklace, which I’ll share more about in a future post.
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What are you currently reading? Do you have any recommendations of island books I should feature?
If you’re a fellow island reader and would like to connect on all things books, you can find me on Goodreads. I even have a shelf of island related books, which I plan to cover in future posts like this one.